Tool Focus – Rabbet Plane

Rabbet Plane

Rabbet Plane

It’s been another busy couple of weeks.  I haven’t gotten around to any wood working.  This week’s post is going to focus on the rabbet plane.  Mine is a vintage Stanley #78 duplex filletster and rabbet plane from between 1910 and 1925.  Before focusing on the plane, I should clarify the difference between a rabbet (rebate for those in the U.K.) and a fillet.  Both rabbets and fillets are essentially ledge like features cut into a board (or other material)  to join it with, or hold, another part.  Rabbets are cut in the same direction as the grain of a board.  A fillet is cut across the grain.  The images below can help you see the difference.



The #78 is equipped with a fence to control the width of the rabbet or fillet.  The fence can be attached to either side of the plane.

Plane showing fence and double beds.

Plane showing fence

To control the depth of the rabbet or fillet, the plane includes a depth stop.

Plane showing depth stop

Plane showing depth stop

When cutting a rabbet, only a fence and some way to control the depth are needed.  When cutting across the grain of the wood, you also have to cut the wood fibers to keep them from tearing away from each other, which results in a ragged edge.  In order to make this easier, the #78 includes a “nicker.”  A small blade  that can be moved so that it cuts the wood just ahead of the plane iron.  The nicker can be seen in the following photo just behind the depth stop.

"Nicker" blade just under the depth stop.

“Nicker” blade just under the depth stop.

The plane also includes dual beds (the parts of the plane that hold the iron securely).  This can be seen clearly in the photo at the top of this post.  The main bed is located around the middle of the plane.  The front bed is used to convert the plane to a bull-nose design which allows the plane to be used farther into corners.

Cutting a rabbet is fairly easy with the #78.  You first have to set the fence and depth stop to the desired dimensions.  Next, starting at the far end of the board, hold the plane’s fence securely against the board’s edge and start by making short cuts to the end of the board.  Keep moving closer to the near end of the board until you are planing the entire length of the board.  The trickiest part of the process is making sure that the plane stays steady so the bottom of the rabbet is parallel with the top of the board and the wall is perpendicular to the top.  Rabbets that aren’t square can be caused by a couple of things.  First is not holding the plane vertically.  The second common cause is the plane iron not extending far enough outside of the plane body on the side that cuts the rabbet.

Cutting a fillet is nearly the same process.  There are two additional steps that are necessary.  First, you need to turn the nicker blade so that it will slice the wood fibers ahead of the plane iron.  Next, before cutting the fillet, hold the plane’s fence against the board and pull the plane backward with light pressure a few times to slice the fibers.  Once you have done this, start cutting the fillet in the same manner as you would to cut a rabbet.

As you can see, the Stanley #78 is a fairly easy tool for cutting rabbets and fillets.  If you would like more information on this plane or how to use it, please let me know.

Hopefully, this week I will be able to make some more progress on the end tables.  I expect to  post a tool focus on the shoulder plane by the end of the week.

Until next time…

4 thoughts on “Tool Focus – Rabbet Plane

  1. Shirley Wheeler

    Philip, this is well written and easy to understand for a non-woodworker like me. I am really enjoying your blog and the pictures are so clear! Looking forward to seeing the progression of your work on your end tables.

  2. gblogswild

    Very nice article – I’d been wondering about a couple of things about this plane. I have a Craftsman (Millers Falls No 85 version, Sargent also made them for Sears), and I’d not known about the use of the “nicker.” Nor did I know that a cross-grain rabbet was called a “fillet!” 😉 In the machining world, a fillet is a corner round.

    1. Phil Day Post author

      Thanks for the comment. The fact that a fillet is the name for a corner round in the machining world is interesting. I would be interested to find out where the use of the term split between the two fields.


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